Healthy Tahoe: Shelter in place doesn’t shelter abuse victims
Some of those under shelter in place orders for COVID-19 face violence where they should be safest: in their own homes. Victims of domestic, sexual, and child abuse are facing increased danger while in isolation.
Those suffering abuse now have an even harder time finding safe ways to reach out and get out. Stay-at-home orders, historic unemployment, food insecurity, uncertainty of available services, and lack of information about how to access services safely has led to a serious crisis in which some victims cannot escape their own homes. For many, tolerating abuse may seem safer when the alternatives present victims and their children an increased risk of exposure to the coronavirus, lack of financial resources, or means of needed support.
Perpetrators of abuse use a variety of tactics to isolate victims and cut off their relationships with co-workers, or friends or family. They exert power and control over their victims to get them to do what they want. And as experts remind us, abuse does not discriminate. Regardless of race, age, gender, sexual orientation, income, education level, religion or cultural background, anyone can be a victim or a perpetrator.
Physical abuse, or threats to commit it, is often linked to other abusive behaviors. Even if physical assaults occur only occasionally, they can instill the fear of future violence. There are different tactics that perpetrators use to exert power and control over victims. Here are a few examples of how:
Gaining Trust: Trying to convince the victim to trust the perpetrator.
Coercion and threats; making or carrying out threats to hurt the victim, to leave them, or threatening to make a false accusation that would hurt the victim.
Intimidation; making the victim afraid by using threats, looks, or gestures. This tactic can also include destroying the victim property, abusing pets, or wielding weapons.
Emotional abuse; humiliating their victim or playing head games. Not taking responsibility for one’s own actions, making false allegations, or ridiculing the victim.
Economic abuse; preventing the victim from getting a job, demanding the victim work longer hours, or get a second job. This includes making the victim ask for money, or not letting the victim have access to family income.
Using children; making the victim feel guilty about their children. Criticizing the victim in front of the children, telling the children the victim doesn’t love them, or interfering with visitation.
Isolation; controlling what he or she does, who the victim sees and talks to, what he or she reads, and where the victim goes. Limiting the victim’s outside activities, and using jealousy to justify actions are other forms of isolation.
Being alert to the signs and symptoms of abuse can help someone you know – a neighbor, a family member, a co-worker, a friend, a child – who may be a victim but might not have the ability to reach out. You can be the bridge to help them receive support and safety by contacting local authorities or Live Violence Free.
Since some signs of abuse may be more difficult to see and understand, it is always helpful to seek out guidance from a professional. If you notice someone being overly eager to please, being unusually distant or secretive, becoming excessively private concerning their personal life, isolating themselves from friends and family, or not receiving help for injuries, any or all of these may warrant concern. Believe the victim and have a conversation in a place and time that is safe for both of you. Ask how you can help, listen without judgement and keep supporting them beyond that conversation.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911. If you or someone you know need immediate crisis support for abuse, call the Live Violence Free crisis line at 530-544-4444.
Help is available here in our community. Live Violence Free continues to provide counseling, legal assistance, safe shelter, and housing that can be accessed by calling 530-544-2118, or at liveviolencefree.org. Together, we can ensure that victims of abuse get to safety, begin to heal, and can rebuild their lives free from violence.
Debra Dyason is the executive director of Live Violence Free, a nonprofit organization committed to promoting a violence-free community through education and advocacy to address domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and basic needs.
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